Sitting Next to Voice of the Martyrs
As I sat in Chicago O’Hare airport waiting for my connecting flight to depart, a stranger approached me.
“Is this the flight to Louisville?”
“Yes it is.”
“This is my first time in America.”
“Really? That’s great! Where are you from?”
I knew at that point this conversation wasn’t going to be ordinary. But I couldn’t have imagined where it was headed. He settled into the seat next to me in the terminal and started the small talk while I sized him up and tried to figure out a strategy for steering the conversation towards the gospel. He was dressed entirely western, so it didn’t seem like a high-risk proposition, though I hope that wouldn’t have mattered anyways. All at once he asked “So what do you do?” There’s my entry card. Lord, don’t let me miss this opportunity.
“I’m sort of like a youth pastor.”
“Really?!? I’m a Christian.”
All at once the six-inch scar running from his left ear to the corner of his mouth began to occupy more of my attention. I asked him how he became a believer, and that’s when I discovered that I was sitting next to a man who had lived what I read about in Voice of the Martyrs:
“I was born into a very wealthy family in Afghanistan. We were businessmen, and I was sent by my father across the border to Pakistan to worth with a contractor. We worked very closely together for a number of months. One day we were driving together and he pulled over to the side of the road and told me he was going into a building for a little while and not to follow him. I asked him what was inside the building, but he just said ‘Don’t follow me.’ After a while I got tired of waiting and went into the building looking for him. I walk up to him and he cried out in alarm ‘What are you doing here? You can’t be in here! This is a church and these are all Christians! You need to go before someone sees you in here.’
I refused to go. I wanted to find out what these Christians were all about. After attending the church for several months, I converted to Christianity from Islam. I came to see that Jesus Christ was God and not just a great prophet and that Islam was untrue and Mohammed was a false prophet.
Eventually I went home and the time came when I had to tell my father. I did not know what he would say or do. I walked up to him and said ‘Daddy, I have become a Christian. I believe in Jesus.’ Without saying a word he picked up a knife that was lying on the table and cut me here, here and here–fingers the heavy scar across his face, then gestures twelve inches down his chest and along his entire right thigh. I ran out of the house, fleeing for my life as he was trying to kill me. All the next day I had to stay in hiding as he and my eight brothers roamed the city looking for me to kill me. The Koran says to kill any who are not Muslim, and it is not a peaceful religion.
I was smuggled out of the country and into Pakistan by the same Christian contractor that I worked with. I bribed an official $12,000 USD and flew into Malaysia. The official said he would get me documents, but he just took off and I never saw him again. Time came for me to check out of the hotel I was staying in because I had no money and I just sat crying on the curb outside. I just cried, ‘Lord, you have abandoned me. I’ve given my wealth, family, everything for You and You’ve abandoned me! I’m going to get deported back to Afghanistan because I’m here illegally and then my family will kill me.’ As I wept on the side of the road, a stranger, a woman, came up to me and asked why I was crying. I told her my story and she said, ‘Come. You will live in my house.’ I lived with that woman for 3 years. I learned English and went to Bible College in Malaysia. I changed my name. It used to be Mohammed, but now it’s John Smith. I applied through the United Nations for asylum, and was granted it by the United States government as a religious refugee.”
It’s tempting to try and spin John’s testimony to make a point. And a lot of those would probably be legitimate conclusions to draw. But in my rush to find a lesson, a principle to draw out of John’s incredible story, I don’t want to forget about the cause of that story. God, through the gospel, took a man doubly hardened by his own sin nature and the lies of Islam and shattered his worldview through a little church in a little border town in Pakistan. God is indeed compassionate and gracious. He is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness. Who indeed is like Him?